Reviewed by
Colin Jacobson

Title: Judgment Day (1999)
Studio Line: Artisan - Prepare for Impact

A giant meteor is expected to crash into Earth in a matter of days -- a crash that would cause global devastation. There is only one chance to prevent impending doom. The government must find Dr. David Corbett (Linden Ashby), the creator of the Thor Project -- a "Star Wars" -- type of satellite system, and use his help to annihilate the fragment.

But before Corbett can be contacted, he is kidnapped by militant religious cult-leader Thomas Payne (Mario Van Peebles), a zealot who believes that judgement day is rightly upon us. The government is forced to enlist the help of Payne's archenemy Matthew Reese (Ice T), a convicted killer, who is the only man who would know Payne's whereabouts. But will they have time to find Dr. Corbett and save the world? Find out in this fast-paced, action-packed thriller.

Director: John Terlesky
Cast: Ice-T, Suzy Amis, Mario Van Peebles, Coolio, Linden Ashby, Tom 'Tiny' Lister Jr.
DVD: Widescreen 1.85:1/16x9; audio English Dolby Surround, Spanish Dolby Surround; subtitles none; closed-captioned; single side - single layer; 25 chapters; rated R; 90 min.; $29.95; street date 4/11/00.
Supplements: Asteroid Information; Trailer; Cast and Crew Information.
Purchase: DVD

Picture/Sound/Extras: B-/B+/D

Right off the bat, Judgment Day will seem awfully unoriginal and derivative. First of all comes the title which looks taken straight from Terminator 2, but which would appear clicheed in any case. Then there's the plot, which concerns efforts to stop a giant meteor before it crashes into the Earth and kills everyone. Hmmm... where have I heard that one?

However, it turns out that JD really isn't just a rip-off of Armageddon and/or Deep Impact. In fact, the story has very little to do with the meteor itself, which just provides the backdrop for what actually is a fairly ordinary thriller.

That's because the military have two possible ways to eliminate the invader before it flattens us: there's "Operation Linebacker", which is the officially-adopted plan, but Those In the Know don't think it'll work, and there's "Project Thor", the option vetoed due to political reasons. Sane military heads know they have to get Thor underway as soon as possible, so they attempt to enlist the help of Dr. David Corbett (Linden Ashby), the dude who thought up the whole scheme.

Unfortunately, the minions of cult leader Thomas Payne (Mario Van Peebles) get him instead, and they want the meteor to extinguish Earth's flame, as they believe it's all part of God's great plan. The government gets FBI agent Tyrell (Suzy Amis) to handle the task, and she takes on convict and Payne-hater Reese (Ice-T) to assist in this journey. The majority of the film depicts their undercover attempts to find Payne's compound and free Corbett.

As such, it's a very unoriginal movie, though at least it's uncreative in a way that differs from what I expected. Despite the lack of fresh material, JD actually makes for a moderately enjoyable experience. It's one of those "whole greater than the sum of its parts" deals, because if I pick apart each layer, the movie seems terrible. Not only is the story tired, but it's stupid as well. Many like to pick on the dumbness and absurdity of Armageddon and Deep Impact but the ridiculousness found here puts those two to shame; a plan to stop the end of the world is handled with so little logic or urgency that it's astonishing.

The performances aren't anything special either. Actually, most of the cast are decent, but Amis is a total disaster. She completely lacks the toughness and grit necessary for the role. In fact, she always looks like she's about to break down and cry, even when she's supposed to be her roughest and most intimidating. Why someone as brittle and weepy as Amis got this role is a mystery; perhaps the producers wanted Linda Hamilton but she refused and they worked their way to the next name on the "James Cameron's lovers" list.

Despite that laundry list of weaknesses, I still kind of liked JD. There's enough action and excitement to keep it going, and despite the best efforts of the plot, it seemed adequately tense for the most part, even though the ending lacks the human element that made the space invader destruction scenes compelling in the other two impending doom movies.

Ultimately, Judgment Day is trite, silly, poorly-plotted and paced and offers mediocre acting at best. Yet I still kind of dug it. Why? I have little idea, but every once in a while, I guess you'll just have to take that leap of faith. It's not in my top 1000 DVDs, but it's worth a look.

The DVD:

Judgment Day is a straight-to-video program that appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, single-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Although it betrays some flaws, for the most part the film looks good.

Sharpness seems excellent, with an image that appears consistently crisp and well-defined; very few instances of any form of softness intrude. I noticed a couple of jagged edges but no moiré effects, and I saw few artifacts from the anamorphic downconversion on my 4X3 TV. The print itself was surprisingly dirty for such a recent film. A little bit of grain was evident at times, and I saw a few nicks and scratches plus some intermittent grittiness. No, the flaws weren't heavy, but they seemed too frequent for a movie from 1999.

Colors were subdued but accurate, with no problems related to oversaturation or bleeding. Black levels also seemed acceptably deep though a little drab, and while shadow detail usually appeared appropriately clear, a few scenes looked a little dark. Overall, JD presents a nice image, but the cumulative effect of the various concerns dropped my rating to a still-decent "B-".

Better is the film's Dolby Surround soundtrack. While I acknowledge that it lost some points because it wasn't a 5.1 mix - which should be a given for this recent a production - I nonetheless found the 2.0 track very satisfying. The forward soundstage seemed very broad and lively, with a good amount of activity stemming from the three front channels; effects were clearly spaced within the environment, and the music was presented in a positive stereo manner. The surrounds provided a strong ambient atmosphere as well; they created a nicely enveloping aura that helped make the whole track work better.

Quality seemed very good. Dialogue occasionally sounded a little edgy but usually was crisp and natural, with no concerns related to intelligibility. Effects were clear and realistic and packed some decent punch when necessary; a few of the explosions appeared a little flat and wan, but otherwise the theatrics came across boldly. Music worked very well, with clean and deep dynamics throughout the film. Although I was disappointed we didn't get a 5.1 track, this mix does a nice job nonetheless.

JD only tosses in a few minor supplements. A video trailer appears, and we get some fairly good biographies for seven actors and three crew members; these aren't tremendously detailed but they're better than the average DVD listings. We also find more than 31 screens worth of information about asteroids. Although it's written in a fairly basic manner, I thought this area provided some interesting data about the issues related to asteroids. The DVD's booklet also offers some provocative notes about armageddon prophecies.

Overall, Judgment Day is a weak film but I thought it was likable and enjoyable nonetheless. It's not as good as its death-from-space competition, but it offers some modest thrills and excitement. The DVD provides slightly-above-average picture and few extras, but the sound seemed surprisingly good. If you're in the mood for a decent little race-against-time thriller, this one may be worth a rental.

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